Rays turn to Cobb to open set with A's

( - Alex Cobb eyes a sixth straight winning decision on Monday when the Tampa Bay Rays begin a three-game series with the Oakland Athletics at Coliseum.

Cobb won his third straight start on Tuesday against Milwaukee, as he struck out 12 and allowed just one run and three hits in eight innings to run his record to 7-6, while lowering his ERA to 3.54.

The 26-year-old right-hander hasn't lost since June 23, but has been remarkable his last three times out, pitching to a 1.31 ERA. He's also struck out 22 batters in 15 innings of his last two starts.

"The last couple of games, Cobber's been about as good as he can be," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "That changeup, right now, is pretty spectacular."

Cobb has faced the A's six times and is 3-2 with a 2.34 ERA.

Oakland, meanwhile, will counter with an impressive righty of its own in Jeff Samardzija, who has won two of his three decisions with the A's since being acquired from Chicago. Samardzija had his worst outing since the trade on Tuesday in Houston, as the Astros reached him for four runs in 6 2/3 innings.

However, he did not get a decision in his team's 7-4 win, but did see his ERA rise to 3.19 while with the A's.

"I'm not happy how I pitched," said Samardzija, who failed to go seven innings for the first time with the A's. "It was 1-1. I had a chance to keep it there, and I didn't. Every pitch and every run is important. But I did keep our offense to where they were in striking distance."

Oakland comes into this series stumbling a bit after a series loss to Kansas City over the weekend. The A's fell for the fourth time in six tries on Sunday, dropping the rubber match with the Royals, 4-2.

Scott Kazmir (12-4) was solid until he unraveled in the fifth, allowing all four of his runs and five of his 10 hits in the frame.

"I felt good," Kazmir said. "I had good tempo, but that fifth inning, they just got a couple hits in a row and I wasn't able to keep them at bay."

Oakland still leads the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim by one game in the American League West.

Tampa didn't help the A's out this weekend, as it lost two of three to the Halos, who secured a series win with a 7-5 triumph on Sunday at Tropicana Field.

James Loney had three hits, two RBI and two runs scored for the Rays, who have lost three of their last four.

Jake Odorizzi (7-9) had won three straight starts coming in, allowing just five earned runs and striking out 20 in 19 1/3 innings. But he threw 46 pitches in the Angels' five-run first and lasted just three innings, giving up eight hits and three walks.

"You're gonna have days like this and stuff like this happens and you just have to work through it," Odorizzi said.

The Rays, though, play their next 10 on the road, where they've won a franchise record-tying eight straight and 13 of their last 14.

Oakland took two of three from the Rays earlier in the year.